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Scientists Say This New Wheat Can Withstand Extreme Heat and Drought

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The Jabal variety is a cross between commercial and wild strains, bred for climate resilience.

This story was originally published by the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

A new drought-tolerant variety of durum wheat has been created as part of an international breeding program to boost climate resilience in the food system by increasing crop diversity.

Durum wheat is used to make pasta, pizza crusts, and flatbreads such as pitta and chapatis, as well as for couscous, bulgur, and pastry for desserts such as baklava.

The new wheat, Jabal, which means “mountain” in Arabic, was developed by farmers and crop scientists by crossing a commercial durum wheat with a wild relative from an arid region of Syria, to create a new durum variety which can withstand drought.

It’s part of the Crop Trust’s wild relatives project, which is using genetically diverse crop varieties to help develop more resilient and adaptive varieties of wheat, barley, rice, and potato that can withstand erratic and extreme weather conditions caused by the climate breakdown.

While it is not yet commercially available, farmers in Morocco will be the first to start growing the new version of durum wheat, which is widely eaten in north Africa and the Middle East, in about three years. Morocco is suffering its worst drought in four decades, and grain production is down by about 70 percent due to the extremely dry conditions.

Breeders and farmers in drought-affected areas planted numerous new durum wheat varieties between 2017 and 2021. Jabal stood out as it was able to flourish and produce grains while all commercial varieties of durum failed. Its distinctive black spikes also produced high yields of plump grains that made tasty bread, scientists said.

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